Stoke & Staffordshire

Overnight Stafford County Hospital GP service 'concealed'

County Hospital - archive image Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption An out-of-hours GP was appointed from 1 February to work in County Hospital

Campaigners claim the NHS concealed the fact a doctor was being employed in Stafford's County Hospital overnight so patients did not use the service.

An email was disclosed from Stafford clinical commissioning group chief executive Andy Donald, saying commissioners had put the service in two months ago, but not advertised it.

Mr Donald said promotion was avoided, in order not to "stoke up demand".

Support Stafford Hospital said his attitude was cynical and outrageous.

Mr Donald has now agreed to re-advertise it so people know it is available.

He said the service had in fact been advertised when first opened, but the clinical commissioning group did not want people using it as a walk-in service and it was not meant to replace A&E.

The Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, which ran Stafford Hospital, now known as County Hospital, was dissolved in November after a £6m inquiry into care failings.

A new trust, University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust, runs the hospital and the Royal Stoke University Hospital in Stoke-on-Trent.

'Very expensive'

Following the closure of accident and emergency overnight and the imminent downgrading of paediatrics at County Hospital, an out-of-hours GP was appointed from 1 February to work in the hospital to ensure safety - particularly for parents of children with chronic conditions - and support the move of services from Stafford to Stoke.

The email was sent on 26 March to Karen Bourne, divisional general manager for women and children's services at University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust.

She was asking for detail about the out-of-hours GP service at County Hospital, hoping it would help her reassure parents worried about the removal of the children's ward at the hospital.

Mr Donald replied: "The Out of Hours service has been in place since the 1st February. We just haven't advertised it because it's very expensive and we do not want to stoke up demand."

Julian Porter, from Support Stafford Hospital, said: "They don't have any intention of keeping a doctor there that is why they haven't advertised it. They want to scrap it before it's started."

Mr Donald accepted it was expensive and with limited resources, he could spend the money elsewhere.

"We want people to go to their GP. We don't want to stoke up demand for the service," he said.

"It can be accessed if needed through the NHS 111 helpline, but the danger is that it will be full in a matter of weeks."

He said the viability of a GP out-of-hours service at the hospital would be reassessed in six months' time.

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